From Prague for termites to Papua New Guinea

Sampling termite baits, completing collections and weighing organic matter from leaf collectors or taking termite samples, all and much more, was the goal of the expedition of representatives from the Faculty of Forestry and Wood Sciences to Papua New Guinea (PNG). The trip was attended by Jiří Synek, Oto Nakládal and Jana Vokurková as part of the EVA 4.0 project. The journey to PNG began at the end of November last year and the survey lasted until 13th December, when the expedition returned to the Czech Republic.

The starting point at PNG was the arrival to Madang, where a car was waiting for the expedition, followed by a transfer to the Binatang Research Center (BRC) in Nagada Bay, where it was necessary to plan a difficult trip to the Wanang III destination. It was needed to provide the necessary equipment, food supplies and provide carriers. The next day, a few hour drive to Palimonas village began and then 12 km walk to Wanang I. From here researchers had to reach Wanang III. Subsequently,  morning eight-hour full-sun trek was waiting for them, which ended up late in the afternoon at the destination.

After well-deserved refreshment and rest, first traps were installed in the evening. Scientific work could finally begin the next morning. A group of scientists went to the forest to collect the first samples of organic matter for subsequent drying, including mass from leaf-litter collectors. This was followed by work in the laboratory by sampling 400 pairs of termite baits. These baits represented about 300 kg of material that had to be brought from the research areas to the laboratory at the station. Fortunately, the researchers were assisted by local residents Anies and Seta, for whom there was no problem finding and arranging anything.

Subsequently, at least five genera of termites, often in several species (most often Microcerotermes, Nasutitermes and Coptotermes), were found in wooden baits. This was noticeably worse in ground baits, and it was confirmed that clay-eating termites are extremely rare in the area. Due to the warm weather, all baits were sampled within six days as they were no longer required to be dried. The scientists used the saved time for various useful activities. Some were engaged in the installation of photo-traps on the "cashier" trail, others in catching of Tiger beetles (Cicindelinae) on sandy river bank or watching of Greater birds-of-paradise (Paradisaea apoda) or taking pictures of the local giant spider from the genus Nephila.

On 5th December, termite sampling was postponed due to a storm with the precipitation of 380 mm in 24 hours. However, the advantage was that all the samples that had to be dried had already been collected. For the next two days, researchers devoted themselves to intensive termite collection. It involved climbing trees for their nests or cutting down fallen trunks with a machete. As a result, several interesting samples were obtained, including several royal termite pairs.

However, the PNG expedition came slowly to its end, and on 8th December  the members of the expedition had more than 20 kilometers back to Wanang I ahead of them, during which they were unpleasantly surprised. The whole village mourned for the death of a small grandchild of a local chief.

A ten-kilometer walk in the rain, wading in a flooded river, and a few hours' drive those were the difficulties, the researchers had to overcome the next day on their way back to 'civilization', i.e. the central station of the BRC in Nagada Bay. Here they have already devoted themselves to the well-deserved rest, handling of sample sending or buying souvenirs at the market in Madang. Samples were also collected in the nearby Baitabag Reserve, including a 45 m tall crane.

The D-Day came on 13th December, when the expedition waited to return to Prague, which lasted “only” 56 hours.

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